and got selected to go to the F-18 project where I went over to America for a six month period to pick up the automatic test equipment for the F-18. From there I came back and whilst I’d been an instrument fitter for about five or six years, I was studying to get my qualifications up so that I could apply for pilot’s course. So after I came back from America I applied for pilot’s course and got selected and that was
about 19-yeah, 19-something, I’ll have to look in my log book to see when I got accepted, I think it was 1982. Accepted onto pilot’s course, did my pilot’s course, graduated thankfully after a year and a half and flew VIP [Very Important Persons] transport for another three years then at Canberra where I got to tour
around all the countryside with lots of important people in the back, which was good fun. And then I got posted to Caribous where I flew in Townsville for another two years and then got selected for instructor’s course. So I went down became a flying instructor, I taught at the school over in Perth for about eighteen months before coming back to Caribous in Amberley where I was an on-line
flying instructor there teaching people how to convert onto the Caribou. From there I was posted back up to Townsville where I was the, again, a flying instructor here for a while where I focus predominantly on training in New Guinea. I was then promoted and became eventually XO [Executive Officer] of 35 Squadron and then as 35 Squadron... 35 Squadron
then became absorbed by 38 Squadron, so it amalgamated, we became a detachment of 38 Squadron up here in Townsville and I became the specialist aircrew officer up here in Townsville. During that time was where most of the deployments occurred , was during the time as XO of 35 Squadron. We were involved in some drought relief operations in New Guinea and then
that flowed on to drought relief operations in Irian Jaya and then of course East Timor came up and we were involved in the first deployments into East Timor, and we were involved there for the better part of two years I guess, over all. Yeah, that’s about deployments in a nutshell. After coming back I did two
short tours in East Timor, about two months for the first tour and another two months for the second tour. And we tried to limit it to that because the conditions for aircrew over there just weren’t conducive to good rest and good operational focus, so we tried to keep in short, get the guys in, do the job, get ‘em back and retrain them into all the other roles that they couldn’t actually do over in East Timor. We couldn’t operate really at night
successfully, over there, we couldn’t operate in instrument flying conditions over there because there was no instrument aids to operate with so the guys quickly lost a lot of their skills, so we had to bring them back fairly regularly so we tried to keep our deployments to a couple of months and then get them back. But all that New Guinea training put us in good stead for East Timor, it was, whilst the
terrain and the airfields were nowhere near as difficult as what they are in New Guinea, because we had trained in New Guinea the guys were well prepared to operate in East Timor. So that was, it was a good deployment for them, put the skills that they’d learned in practise. And I had been the pleasure of being the first detachment commander to be over there to take the Caribous in, which was good fun.
South Australia there was lots of people who were doing year twelve and still not getting jobs. So I thought, ‘I’ll get out while the getting’s good and see if I can find a job.’ And I just happened to be walking past the recruiting office one day and saw they were recruiting and I thought, ‘I’ll give that a go.’ I actually went in to apply for the army, but army applications were already closed for apprenticeships, so I applied for the navy and the air force. I actually wanted to join the navy,
when I couldn’t get in to the army, I thought, ‘Well the navy would be the next best thing.’ As it turned out the air force sent me a letter saying I’d been accepted for apprenticeship training and that I had to reply to them within a couple of weeks of getting the letter. So I thought about it and I thought, ‘Will I hold out and see whether the navy gives me an option?’ As it turns out they did but it was after the cut off date and I’d already accepted for the air force. And I said, “Well I’ve already accepted
for the air force so I’ll go with the air force,” and in the end I was glad I did, I really did enjoy my time in the air force. So that then left me with only a year eleven education, I joined and went to Wagga and as soon as I got there, whilst I loved doing my trade I thought, ‘There’s more to the air force than being a tradesman.’ And an F111 did a fly over there one
day at low level at high speed and I thought, ‘That’s what I wanna do, I wanna fly aeroplanes,’ and from that day I started working towards it to become a pilot, which took me a few years but I got there eventually.
I had applied for a job with the weapons research establishment in Adelaide, they were looking for electrical apprentices so I applied and they gave me an interview. And there was, I forget how many people they’d put on their short list but it was, you know, there was a couple of hundred that they were doing interviews with. And I walked in and they said, “Oh well you’ve,” you know, “Its only a
year ten education requirement for an apprenticeship but we’ve just got so many applications that we’re really only looking at people who’ve got year twelve to get a job. We’ll give you an interview anyway.” So I had the interview and that was good because it gave me some experience at interviews but yeah, I had no hope, no hope of getting a job there and I thought, ‘Gee, if that’s how competitive its gonna be to get a job I better start applying
to more places to try and get one and it was lucky I got accepted for the air force. So that was my motivation, was to get a job and get somewhere other than being at school.
B to C you’re on there.’ And all the S’s, we had our room, there was four of us in the room. Just trying to think of the other guys’ names... Sher, Shuck, Schmitt and somebody else, all in that same room. And of course being the new intake of apprenticeships, of apprentices the, all the second year and third year apprentices,
it was their duty to come over and cause as much heartache to you as possible by tipping you out of bed in the middle of the night and spraying you with fire hoses and all the good fun things that used to happen in the air force which they’ve cut out over the years. But that, it was good, it was all done in good fun, nobody got hurt and you always knew that next year it’d be our turn to get the new intake then make them do stupid things.
But they’d, you know, their senior intakes would tip you out of bed and mess up your room and whatever but then you know, half an hour later they’d come over and invite you over for a beer or whatever. So it was good, the mateship was good but there was lots of practical jokes and pranks and that was, that was something that was, I think its something that’s missing now, it doesn’t go on any more, its considered not politically correct any more.
Do you remember anything you did specifically?
Nah, not really. I know we hid a service police car one day, they hid it in one of the old aeroplanes that was there. That was the intake, that wasn’t me personally, but those sorts of things were done. You know, always, apprentices were always, they used to call it rumbling, rumbling other apprentices. You know, if you
open the fire hose up on somebody’s bed or you’d tie ‘em to a fire hydrant and then turn the fire hydrant on. Or fill their overalls up with washing powder and then tie ‘em to the fire hydrant and watch ‘em all bubble over, that was always a regular. So there was all of those things and they went on, they just went on constantly, and no, as I said, nobody got hurt and nobody really worried too much about it. I think they used to call it character building.
your days were set up so that you’d be at work at a certain time. You’d work, go to lunch, you’d come home, you’d do your study or whatever you had to do then the next morning you had inspections and you had everything else done, you had to go on parades and so your life was very regimented, so you didn’t have time to worry too much about missing home or whatever. And there was just always something going on, you’re always playing sport or you know,
there was the apprentice club you could go and you know, watch TV [Television] or play pool or do whatever you wanted to do. So there’s plenty of activities to keep people under the, you know, occupied. And there was always plenty of study to do as well, so that was all good. And there was always you know, the usual sorts of things, there was, you know, girls to chase at, sixteen or seventeen year olds, that you had to, that was the done thing,
chase girls and see if you could, again, go to clubs and have a beer and do whatever you could do.
you know, we filed metal and we drilled holes in things and we made bits and pieces of stuff and we learned tech drawing and a few other bits and pieces of just general fitting and turning and machining. Also we did, you know, normal schooling type work so we did mathematics and we did English and a couple of other subjects that we, that we did while we were there. And then after that you, they graded
you on what you’d done during that time and you would then pick what trade you wanted to do. And when I first joined I thought I wanted to be an engine fitter, probably influenced by my brother who was a diesel mechanic. And when I started doing the trade training they,
the electrical trades, instrument fitting, electricians, they were sorta the more harder trades to do. And because I’d done well in the early stages they said, “You should be an instrument fitter or an electrician,” or whatever, one of those other trades, not a... “you’re not a...” used to have the black hand trades, the guys who got dirty playing with greasy things, and the,
we used to call them the queer trades, but its probably not politically correct any more either. You know, the guys that didn’t get dirty, the instrument fitters, the electricians, armament fitters, stuff like that. And so I decided I’d do, I’d become an instrument fitter and off we went and we did, after the six month basic fitting it was another two years of the
instrument fitter training and we went into everything. Then we, yeah, we stayed there for an extra six months longer, the instrument fitters and electricians did two and a half years at Wagga whereas the engine fitters and the air frame fitters and air motor transport fitters, they only did two years, so we were there for a bit longer.
And was that go, with your good results, gonna help you with, eventually with a posting of preference?
I thought it would. I thought it would, they always kept saying, ‘Look if you do really well in your apprenticeship, you’ll get to go where you wanna go at the end of it.’ And I’d put down that I wanted to go back to South Australia, I guess, you know, predominantly to get back to my friends and family and for comfort I guess, cause I knew South Australia. And my posting came out and it wasn’t to South Australia, they’d sent me to F111s.
I guess because I’d done well and the F111 was the new toy at the time to sort of play with, and it was probably the most technically advanced aeroplane we had in the fleet at the time, so that’s where I went. And I predominantly, although I did a lot of instrument fitter type training where we learned about basic instruments, once I started working on the aeroplane,
most of my stuff was electronics not actual instruments. Most of my work was done on all the avionics, the avionics components of the aeroplane and also all the automatic test equipment that drove those and repaired and helped diagnose them. So yeah I did most of my stuff in there.
the first generation I guess, of solid state transistorised equipment in it. It had three separate computers, one each for making the aeroplane pitch, roll and also to yaw, so it had three of those, so it was fly by wire I guess, if you like. The controlling puts in to the computers, the computers then told the,
the control surfaces which way to move and how fast to move, and how big to move. So each of those computers controlled a different surface and inside each computer there was three circuits, three logic circuits in there. So if one logic circuit was faulty the other two would vote it out and that didn’t always work. And if,
if they ever had a failure they would automatically say, “I’ve had a failure,” and you’d, they’d then pull that module out and you’d have to then fix it. So you’d put it on to this particular test equipment, automatic test station, and it would simulate being in an aeroplane and try and diagnose where the fault was so we would then replace or repair that particular component. So that was the three comp, the three avionics computers, and then also, there was also the navigation computer
which was a big thing, sat in the cockpit that the navigator played with, which worked out speed and distance. And it was the first generation of inertial navigation systems, so without wanting to go into too much detail, it had a set of gyroscopic instruments, it sat there and said, “I’m in this point in space.” And then as the aeroplane moved it would then
tell it, it would have, it had sensors off that gyroscope that said, “I’m now moving at this speed and this rate.” And that would then feed to this computer and the computer would say, “Well you’re now doing this amount of ground speed or this amount of air speed, or you’re pitched at this angle or you’re pitched at that angle,” or whatever, and it was notoriously unreliable as well. And there was also another computer that went on that test station as well which was the bombing computer which worked out trajectories and velocities and
all that sort of stuff. So they’d feed in what sorta bomb they’re gonna drop and it would then work out the parameters to pick a release point for the bomb, and that was our stuff. But the test equipment that tested all that stuff, it was nearly as unreliable as the gear that was in it. They’ve since had a complete refit of the F111
some years down the track with new avionics equipment which is far more reliable. Back then, you know... everyone these days is familiar with your little plug in microchips that plug in to everything, nowadays you see ‘em on everything. Back then they didn’t exist so the first attempts at it were, you know, big circuit cards
like this bolted together or soldered together with individual components all in them and then soldered onto a card, so they were big and bulky and notoriously unreliable for bad solder joints and cracked solder joints and that’s what we spent our time doing a lot of was repairing solder joints. So that’s basically the F111 avionics side of what I did in a nutshell.
this new technology called pay-tack, which is laser guided bomb delivery system, and it meant a trip over to America to pick it up, to train on it and learn about it and cause I wanted to go on a trip over to America I thought, ‘That’s me, I want to do that.’ So I applied for the pay-tack program and my boss called me in and said, “Look, normally you’d be the first sort of person that we’d choose
to go, but you’ve already sort of told me that you’re intending to apply for pilot’s course at the end of the year.” And he said, “We can’t afford to send you over to America and then lose you at the end of the year,” you know, “if you’re accepted.” And I said, “Well there’s no guarantee I’m going to get accepted.” He said, “Yeah, but I’m not willing to take that risk.” So it was only a matter of a couple of weeks after that, that I got a phone call from Canberra saying I’d been accepted on the F-18 project, which meant six months in America. And I said, “But I’m applying
for pilot’s course at the end of the year, do you still want to take me over to America?” And they said, “Look there’s no guarantee you’re going to get pilot’s course, so off you go, go over to America to learn about the F-18.” So I dutifully packed by bags and off I went and had a great time and came back and six months later I was on pilot’s course, having never actually touched the piece of equipment that I was trained on. The piece of equipment that I was trained on hadn’t even arrived in Australia by the time I’d left to go onto pilot’s course, so.
one year it got interrupted because I got married and I never sort of sat the exams and another year there was an F111 deployment over to America, it was about a three month deployment that we went on for a competition, a bombing competition. The aircrew all competed in this bombing competition, they took tradesmen over to help, look after the aeroplanes, maintain the aircraft while they were over there.
And I got on that trip and it coincided with exam time and I thought, ‘Oh do I do the exams and miss out on this trip or do I just delay things a year,’ so I elected to delay things a year and go on the trip over to America. And that was a good time too, we did a lot of good things, went to a lot of good places, had a lot of good fun things to do.
And yeah, then when I came back, went back to night school and then this F-18 deployment came up and it coincided with exam time as well. And I made arrangements then to actually sit the exams over in America, so that worked out alright, I sat the exams over there and managed to pass whilst away.
So tell me about what you were learning over in the states?
On the F-18 project? The F-18 project was similar sort of thing to the F111, it was all its avionics equipment, its flight controls, computers and its navigation systems and the automatic test equipment again that drove that. So as an automatic test equipment specialist from F111s I got dragged into the F-18 project and it was
similar sort of thing but far more modern technology, it was the latest technology. And yeah, as an example I guess, the F111 used, when you used to type things in on it, and in program you used to type it all in, in hexadecimal. So I don't know if you’re a computer geek or not but that was a real old language, hexadecimal language, it,
basically its the letters one through to nine or ten and A, B, C, D, E, F, G, so that then you program everything like that. And when we went to the F-18 it had, you know, computer, it had keyboards and things, you know, proper keyboards and had it’s own language, it’s own automatic test station language that you could write programs in and stuff. So it was much more cutting edge technology but the course
itself was real basic, was real Bob basic sort of course, cause it was designed for American tradesmen who really are not so much a lesser qualifications than us but their, they work to a more simplistic system. So they only take it to this sort of level whereas we would take it to a much more
detailed level, and the course only took it to this level. So we found the course very easy, it was supposed to be two twelve week courses but we basically condensed it down. And we had a couple of Americans in our course with us as well and we tutored them so that we could finish the course early. So we had, instead of doing the course
in twelve weeks we did it in ten weeks, and then we were programmed to have two weeks off over Christmas anyway, so then we had four weeks off and then the actual next course got delayed by two weeks so we had six weeks off in the middle of the thing to just basically tour around and do whatever we wanted to do. And it was great we, my wife was over there, we, my wife was over there with me, we lived in an apartment complex over there, bought a car and drove around and toured and
went do lots of good places and I played a lot of golf, which was good.
so we used their test station to test our equipment. But their test stations were all, like where we had two of the test stations at Amberley, they had a room with four of them, four of those test stations, and out of those four only one worked when we went over there, and they would just rob parts off the other three to keep that one going. So when we got over there we said, “Oh look, we’ll just have this one over here
and we’ll fix that up.” So within a, you know, a few days, I had that test station going and they thought, ‘Well that’s pretty good,’ so then I started working on the next one. By the end of the few weeks we were there I had all four test stations running properly and they, the Americans couldn’t believe it, they cancelled everybody’s leave and bought ‘em all in and started working twenty-four hour shifts to clear all their backlog of components that they hadn’t been able to fix at that time.
So they were very appreciative of what we did for them and I got a nice letter of commendation from them and they let me off the charges for crashing one of their cars, so that was all pretty good.
at the time we had seven aircraft trades, you know, different specialisations, they had something like fifty. So where we would know, you know, all the avionics components of an F111, their specialty might only be one particular piece of it. You know, like where I would’ve worked on the avionics, the flight controls computers, the nav [navigation] computer, I can work on all the other bits and pieces on the aeroplane
as well, they would specialise to just that one component. And they have test station operators and test station maintainers whereas we had operators and maintainers all rolled into one. So they would not, like if he was just a test station operator he wouldn’t be able to, he wouldn’t be able to go and do any maintenance on the test station, he’d have to then call in a maintainer to come and do it, so he really knew nothing about the equipment that he was working on. And that was just the way they trained cause it was cheaper for them to
do that, and they had plenty of people in the defence force and that’s what they did and broke their specialisations up. So it wasn’t so much a matter of that we considered them to be less knowledgeable or whatever, they just operated in a different way and it took ‘em a bit longer to get things done than what it did with us.
cause they drive on the wrong side of the road over there, we sort of forgot about that at the time. And it was only, it was a minor parking accident, I just put a little dent in the side of one of their... they lent us a van, I put a little dent in the side of it, which we sort of fixed up but somebody dobbed us in. Nobody even noticed it. As it, as it turned out we put this little dent in the side of the door which
was really nothing but the bonnet on this little truck had some repairs done to it as well and we opened the bonnet to look in to do something with the engine, which Americans don’t ever do. And when we went to close the bonnet it wouldn’t close properly and one of the guys slammed the bonnet and this big patch of bog and duco popped off of the bonnet so it had a big dent in the bonnet, which had nothing to do with me crashing it, we’d fixed the dent in the
door and done all that. But anyway we got dobbed in so I put my hand up and said, ‘Oh yeah, it was me, I crashed your van.” They said, “Oh well look at that dent in the bonnet.” I said, “Hey I didn’t do the dent in the bonnet, I did the dent in the door.” “What dent in the door?” Anyhow the Australian Air force had to be seen to do the right thing because it was a bad thing to crash one of their cars and not tell ‘em about it, so we had a little charge and a hearing and I got a slap on the wrist and everybody was happy, so
it was something, nothing. But there was, we had lots of good things, like we stayed in a hotel while we were there off the base and it was good, and we went skiing and all over the place. It was a great, that was a great deployment that first one, and the second one with the F-18s was even better, it was, that was a lot of fun.
went with us, he was only a little, he was a twelve month old. And yeah, he went everywhere with us. That was the, I mean, that deployment, that six month deployment with the F-18s, that was supposed to be unaccompanied, it was, they, the air force didn’t pay for my wife to go, or family to go. We elected to,
to go so we put our gear in storage and Fiona came over about a month after I’d been over there, she came over, and we paid our own way basically to rent a flat and rent some furniture and get ourselves set up. And most of the guys did, most of the guys bought their wives over with them. Six months away would’ve been a fairly long time with a little
twelve month old baby, so that’s what we elected to do. And as I said, then we came back to Williamtown.
for pilot’s course. And yeah, as I said, we were trying to set the area up that this test equipment was gonna be set up in and get all the parts in and all the stuff that we needed to do and start setting up procedures and stuff for this test equipment, but it hadn’t even arrived in the country by the time I’d been, accepted the pilot’s course and gone. So
whilst there was a little bit of, there was a little bit of animosity about it between the engineering side and the aircrew side, that the aircrew side were pinching me having been trained in America for this F-18 gear. It was, the department of personnel said, “Look if he’s applied for pilot’s course, he’s got the goods to go, we’re taking him. Bad luck, you shouldn’t have sent him in the first place, if you thought you didn’t want to lose him.”
And they didn’t put any return of service on my course, so they didn’t say, “When you come back you have to do at least two years before you can go anywhere else.” They just said, “You go and do the course and...” and so that started a bit of in-fighting, but DPO [Departmental Posting Officer?], the officer’s side won out in the end and off I went.
just to get an interview, just to get to the same level as a guy who walks off the street, to walk into a recruiting office, you have to get recommended by your section commander, then you gotta get your commanding officer to approve your application. Then you’ve gotta get the officer commanding of the base to approve your application before you even can then go to the recruiting board and say, oh to go to the recruiting section and say,
“Hey I wanna apply.” So you’ve already had to jump through three other hurdles that guys off the street don’t jump through. And then you’re just lumbered in with the guys off the street and often those guys are coming, and I guess that’s what recruiting is set up for, its set up to get guys who are coming straight off the street who have just finished school or have just done a year of university or whatever. So you gotta go in and do all the aptitude testing and the maths
testing and the English testing and all that sort of stuff and you haven’t done it for a while, it is a bit daunting I guess and a lot of guys just can’t do it. And then of course comes the interview with the board, so you sit in front of four guys and they grill you with questions and ask you all about your motivation and your aptitude and your education and whether you know what you’re getting yourself in for. And,
and a lot of guys don’t handle that interview very well. I was lucky, I had an easy interview, I think they must’ve made their decision that they were going to accept me before they even did the interview because it was, it wasn’t daunting at all. But a lot of guys who got knocked back said, “Oh the interview process that’s really hard, and they do all this, do all these things.” So I, the interview process was probably the scariest thing, I was
worried about, I practised interview technique with guys and everybody that’d been on one before you, you go and grab ‘em and say, “What’d they ask you on the interview board?” And course when you go in there they ask you all completely different things you haven’t studied for. Like one guy said, “Oh they’ll ask you to count backwards in multiples of seven from a hundred,” so I practised, I could count backwards in multiples of seven from a hundred with my eyes shut, no problem at all. And when I got in there, they said, “Count backwards from a hundred and three in multiples of seven,” and that
completely threw me. And I went, “I’ve been practising counting backwards from a hundred, can I start at a hundred?” “No, no, a hundred and three.” “Okay.” So anyway, in the...
at the time an F111 went over at low level, high speed, made a lot of noise, everybody went ‘Ooh, gee, that was impressive.’ And I thought, ‘Gee that’d be fun to do something like that, to fly aeroplanes.’ And I guess it was always, it was one of those ladders to climb, its a, its something I’ve always aimed, you always aim to be the best you can be. Which I guess is why,
why I aimed for one of the harder trades, you know, be an instrument fitter, be there, and then I went to F111s and then I got onto F-18s and, you know, my aim was always to be the best that I could be. And I’m gonna kill Buddy in a minute (refers to a dog off camera). Yeah, so I guess it was just one of those things, I wanted to
be, I wanted to be a pilot because I figured that was, that that was the thing, the best thing to achieve, that you could achieve in the air force, would be a pilot.
I thought that I would have no trouble, and it turned, as it turned out the course was a lot harder than I actually anticipated. So far as the academic side of it went, it wasn’t too bad, I was no whiz at aerodynamics, but most of the stuff was okay. But the actual piloting side of it, the actual flying the aeroplane was, to the,
to the sort of specifications and level that was expected of military pilots was a lot harder than I thought it was gonna be, cause I had very little flying experience. I’d done about two or three lessons in a little Cessna, just to get a feel for it and make sure that I was, actually liked flying and I didn’t find that too difficult, but once I went, once we started on pilot’s course and they wanted you to fly to the sort of level that they wanted you to fly at,
I found it difficult. And I was always, I was sorta always on the edge if you know what I mean, I was always, I could’ve gone either way, I could’ve been on the scrub list or on the go list, you know, I just sort of teetered on that edge. I managed to get through but as I said I was no star student.
Well tell us about the course, where was it?
The first part of the course was at Point Cook down in Melbourne. That was, back in those days it was CT-4s [training aeroplane] for your basic training, so a little propeller driven, piston engine side by side seating aeroplane. And it, no, not a real big performance aeroplane but challenging enough
to start with. So, I forget how many hours we did there, I think we did about fifty or sixty hours in the CT-4, all pretty basic sort of stuff, basic flying skills. And then once you’d finished that, if you got through that lot, then you got sent over to Pearce in Western Australia to fly the Macci [jet] back in those days, which was a
much higher performance little jet aeroplane. And it was the more military focus, the actual military type flying, formation and low level and all that sort of more detailed sort of stuff.
It was different again, different I guess for the, for me, and for some of the other guys who were, they used to call us retreads back then because we’d been, we were, we’d already been in the air force but we were getting retreaded with a different role. So that the retreads, there was me and a couple of other guys on the
course, we had gone from being either, you know, leading aircraftsman or in my case I was a corporal. We went from that to losing our rank and becoming officer cadets and we were expected to know a lot more than what the guys who’d come straight off the street had, were. Yeah, we went, as I said we went
from sort of being corporals or LACs [Leading Aircraftsmen] to officer cadets and basically treated like the lowest of the low again, which came as a bit of a shock but, you know, you get used to it. And everybody was excited but there was always the, there was always the thought of not making it, that was always hanging over your head. And pilot’s course then, and I, probably still has today, I don't know, I’d haven’t checked the statistics recently but it’s about a fifty percent failure rate,
so only half of those that start will actually finish, and you don’t wanna be on the half that doesn’t finish.
every... (to dog) Buddy, Buddy, sit down, go on, go and lay down. Yeah, every flight’s scored, they’re scored on a points system from a one through to a five, sorry, a zero through to a five. Zero being a fail, one being marginal and five being, you know, exceptional. I didn’t get too many fives, I got a lot of twos
and a fair number of ones. But a fail, failing a ride would put you on a warning, fail another ride... generally the third fail was a scrub ride, so if you failed three times you were gone. And if you had, sort of, three marginals in a row then they would, they’d have a closer
look at you as well and tell you, you know, send you up with the CO [Commanding Officer] or the chief flying instructor and they’d tell you, “This is a scrub ride, you either pass this flight or you’re going home.” And I had a couple of them, but I managed to survive, so.
some of the instructors, some of the instructors are more supportive than others. Others, and others are out there to try and... I mean they all, all wanna teach you but if you can’t learn at the pace that they want to teach you at, then some of them will be quick to fail you, whereas others will take a bit more time. But it just depends on the individual, and there’s always, there’s always, you know, instructors who have this reputation
of, you know, being the scrubbers. Usually its unjustified having then been through the, having been through the instructor’s system then, you find that all the guys are there to sorta, to get the students to pass, but sometimes you just, doesn’t matter what you do, you can’t get the student to pass, they just won’t pass, no matter what you do. And it’s often
the better instructors that get the weaker students, and as a result the weaker students are the ones that tend to fail so the better instructors are the ones that get the reputation of being the scrubbers, cause they always scrub people. But yeah, that, I was lucky, I guess I had a pretty good rapport with the guys over there, with the instructors.
So when it came time at Point Cook, they had to make a decision, ‘Do we send this guy over to Western Australia or do we say no?’ (to dog)_ ...I am gonna lock you out.
That was one of those things you didn’t want to do either. There was always, there was so much pressure and so much nerves that a lot of guys got air sick, and some guys didn’t get over it. Luckily I, I think I was air sick once and then got over it, but yeah, it was funny, it was a funny old thing. I vividly remember a guy called Jack Rodstrum who was one of the senior flying instructors there at the time, and
back in those days you were allowed to smoke, and he used to smoke in the aeroplane, and he used to smoke in the CT-4, so he would roll a cigarette on, while you’re doing a circuit and he’d smoke it and he’d, on final he’d put it out in the ash tray and... he was a funny guy. And he let me do my first landing as I recall, and it was a disaster. I think I hit the ground that hard, we bounced back up into the air and, ‘Well, I guess you’ll need more
practise at that.’ Yeah, so it was a funny old time. But course you can’t do that any more, you’re not allowed to smoke in aeroplanes any more and you can’t do any of those sorts of things. But old Jack, unfortunately he was killed in an accident in New Guinea a few years ago, in a Caribou of all things, a civilian Caribou. But yeah, he was sort of the first guy I think that sent me solo, mmm.
the edge the whole time. The guys that, the guys that got scrubbed often were the guys that would say, “Oh yeah, I had a good ride, that was a good, I had a good flight, I had no problems,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and next week they were gone. You think, ‘God if he’s, if he got scrubbed, what’s gonna happen to me, I’ve been struggling all this time and he’s been having no trouble, and he’s got scrubbed,’ so I guess its a perception, I guess the guys that thought they were doing well and got scrubbed really weren’t doing too well at all. Whereas the guys like myself and the fellas that I graduated with, we
all thought we were all hopeless and had to try harder and had to work harder and I guess that got us through, so yeah. But it was a lot of little hurdles, you know, you worked hard until you got through your first solo, when they, when you first got sent solo. Then there was the next step was your Intermediate Progress Test, your IPT and then there was the GF, General Flying test,
general flying progress test which was at the end of 1FTS [No. 1 Flight Training School], which determined whether you would then go on to fly Maccis at Point, at Pearce. And then once you got over to Pearce there was some big hurdles then, the instrument rating test used to knock out a fair percentage of people, and the other one which was the,
the IFHT, I can tell you what the abbreviation was but I don't know if you’d be allowed to have it on the print. You can always edit it out, it was called the IFPT, yeah, IFHT the Intermediate Final Handling Test was what it was, was its proper name, but everybody used to call it the ‘Incredibly Fucking Hard Test’. And if you got through that
then you were almost right, cause the only big test after that was nav and wings, and nobody got scrubbed on wings. There was a few guys got scrubbed on, you know, over the years, there’s been a few guys scrubbed on wings but very rarely does anybody get scrubbed on wings, and hardly anybody gets scrubbed on nav, although I nearly did. But if you get through the F…, the intermediate
final handling test that, you were pretty much home free then, and in the IRT [Instrument Ratings Test].
at all. All you can see in front of you are the flying, are the instruments, so its all instrument flying, so obviously you don’t do the take off or the landing. You can’t see out, its quite disorientating and its simulated its flying in cloud, and it is difficult, the, so that used to bring a lot of people unstuck, and still does today. I mean, a lot of aircraft that crash around the world today are,
are people who get ‘emselves in trouble in cloud and invariably they lose control or they crash into a hill, because they lose track of where they are. So its a very important part of flying, is your instrument flying and as a result its quite difficult, its a difficult test. The other one, the IFHT is, its,
they can throw anything at you on that test, and it is the last real chance they’ve got of saying, “This guy’s either gonna make it or he’s not gonna make it.” And so if you’re a bit marginal then they’re not gonna let you progress to the wings test cause nobody gets, they don’t, it would look very stupid for you to have done eighteen months of training to get scrubbed on the last
ride. So the one before that, the intermediate handling test is the one that will getcha, if its gonna getcha. So, and as I said, the only other big one was nav. but not very many people got scrubbed on nav although I did my best to fail it, I had to do a re-ride on it, so.
And during this time is your wife going with you to...?
She did, she went with us on those, on both of those postings. I had two children by that stage and yeah, she came with me. I had a room on base as well, so if I needed to I could stay on base and study, or I could come home. And I used to find, I personally found it a lot easier to have my home, my family around me, I found
that easier to work with. Some guys didn’t, some guys found it easier to stay out on the base and leave their wives and families wherever they were and do it that way, but I found it easier to have my wife there. I’d just come home and have dinner and then switch off for a minute and then I’d start studying again. And you know, we used to study every night, you’d study every night during the week.
Friday night you’d generally allow yourself to have a break, so you’d have a break on Friday night.
And of course everybody, family and friends and that all came for the graduation ceremony and the parade and all that, so you know, you felt like you were, you know, you felt that you’d done something very important. It wasn’t until you then finish and have your graduation parade and they pin your wings on and then you get out to the squadron and you realise you actually don’t know anything, and you have to start all over again cause then you start
a conversion onto the aircraft, operational aircraft that you’re gonna fly, so you start all over again. And its always a restart process, you get to the top, bang, you get knocked down to the bottom and then you work your way up and get knocked down again, and that’s what aircrew’s all about. Always starting off, learning from, learning from the beginning and working your way up, so.
started pilot’s course, I’d initially thought, and I guess it was just because of my background on F111s, but that I would like to have flown F111s, but as I said, I was no star, was no star performer. And, you know, it was, I was never gonna be an F111 pilot, it was going to be too much work for me to actually achieve that.
Not that there’s a difference, there’s, I suppose there is... everybody must achieve the standard to get to wings. So I guess anybody, anybody’s who’s achieved wings technically has the capacity to fly any aeroplane that the air force has as an inventory. But, you know, there are those guys that just have more natural piloting ability than others and generally those guys are the guys who go and fly fast jets,
F111s, F-18s. But having said that, some guys who have the ability to fly F111s, F-18s just simply don’t want to, or they just don’t have the personalities to do it. So, you know, I was more of a, always more of a transport type pilot. I actually wanted to fly helicopters off pilot’s course.
Whilst initially I thought I wanted to fly F111s, it became obvious to me that that was sort of gonna be beyond, be out of my scope, so I actually put down that I wanted to fly helicopters off pilot’s course, when the air force owned helicopters before the army took them off, but then again, so did half my pilot’s course wanted to fly helicopters, so. And there was a position to be filled at VIP transport,
and I guess cause I was one of the oldest guys in the course as well, and most of the guys on my course were straight out of school, eighteen years old and I was twenty-five or twenty-six I think at the time, so a little bit more mature. And I got given the position of going to VIP transport and yeah, it turned out to be a pretty good move. I had some very good mentors that I had
in the VIP transport world who taught me a lot and, you know, gave me a lot of opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have got anywhere else, so I really enjoyed my time at VIP.
and always had a smile and a joke. But always late, never ever on time, ever on time and we would sit for hours and hours and hours waiting for him. And often you know, and I’m sure the ex-Prime Minister won’t mind me saying, often he was caught up in casinos, he used to like having a punt and he used to like having a bet on the races.
And often we’d be flying, often we’d be flying and the Prime Minister’d stick his head in the cockpit door and he’d say, “Ah, any chance of getting us the results of Sydney race six?” So you’d, we used to have a telephone patch system in the aeroplane so we could telephone patch, so you’d ring up the TAB [Totalizer Agency Board, a betting agent] and, you know, ‘This won.’ Or you’d try and get, we could also tune up some of the radio nav. aids in the aeroplane, you could tune those up to,
to pick up to local ABC [Australian Broadcasting Commission] radio station and maybe catch, get the race. If it was a big race day, it was a Saturday, you could always rely on Mr Hawke to be in the cockpit with a head set on trying to listen to the races, and he’d get the shits if you’d lose the radio station, if it was half way through a race. But that was him, and he was always late, always, always late. I got him into trouble one day.
We, the BAC 1-11 was a very, very noisy aeroplane, it was to the point where it was getting banned from just about anywhere. No civilian operators could operate it, because it was so noisy, with all the noise pollution laws around the place now. And Sydney was very, very strict on noise curfews, and you’d basically, you could land,
you couldn’t, you could land after ten but you couldn’t take off after ten I think, was the rule in Sydney at the time, because this thing was just too noisy, it’d wake half of Sydney up. Well he, we’d been waiting for him for hours in Launceston or somewhere down in Hobart and he eventually turned up. We were on our way and I had a, and I was a fairly senior co-pilot at the time, I’d been around the VIP world for a long time, and this guy
who was the captain was a fairly junior captain and he said, “Oh, I don’t want to spend the night in Sydney.” And I said, “Well, we haven’t got any choice, its gonna be half past ten when we land and we’re out of curfew, we can’t take off again.” And he said, “Oh, we’ll get a curfew dispensation,” which basically means you get permission to take off. And I said, “Well we’re not gonna get one of them because there’s no reason for a dispensation.” And he said,
he said, “I’ll go and ask the Prime Minister if he’ll give us a dispensation.” And I said, “Well (a) he can’t do it anyway and (b) he won’t give it to you because there’s no reason for us to take off, we’ll just stay the night, we’ll just go and find a hotel, we’ll stay the night, we’ll fly back tomorrow.” “No, no, no, I’m going down the back.” So off he went, he went down the back and asked the Prime Minister. Anyhow he comes back in the cockpit and says, “Yeah, yeah, the Prime Minister said we can take off.” I said, “Oh,”
I said, “What did you say to him?” He said, “Oh I just told him that we, you know, we were, we wanted to go back to Canberra and you know, we’re outside curfew cause he was late.” And I said, “You did tell him that they get pretty upset about you breaking curfew.” “Oh well he didn’t really ask so I didn’t really tell him.” And at the time, the minister for transport’s the only guy who had the authority to do it anyway and I think the Prime Minister sort of said, “Well I’m his boss, so I can do that.”
So off we went, we blasted off. Well next morning its front page news that ‘Prime Minister’s Jet Breaks Curfew,’ and there was nobody on it. And this of course came up in parliament that the Prime Minister’s jet had broken the curfew. And true to his word, Prime Minister Hawke he got up and said, “Well, I authorised them to take off, it had nothing to do with the air force, I told ‘em they could go.” Cause we were in trouble, me and the
captain were in trouble for breaking the rule and the Prime Minister got us out of trouble, so that was pretty good. But yeah, yeah, always late, always always late.
we flew Paul Keating around a lot when he was Treasurer but never had a lot of time for him. I don't know why, all his staff loved him, all his staff thought he was the best bloke in the world, but he was a real stand offish sort of a guy. Obviously very clever man but he’d never, he would never get personal with us, he was always straight down the line and we
were there to serve him, that was... And that was fair enough, that was what we were there, that was what we were there for was to provide a service, so he used to take advantage of it as well. But we nearly took off out of Sydney without him one night because we’d told him that the aeroplane had to be back in Canberra that night cause it was tasked for another job the next day and that we had to take off by whatever the curfew time was, that meant we had to
taxi at a certain time and then he had to be there or else we were gonna leave there without him. And his staff said, “You will not leave without him.” And I said, “Watch us, we’ll leave without him because the aeroplane’s gotta be back for a Governor General task or something tomorrow, and we can’t take off outside curfew so he’s either here or the aeroplane’s gone.” And we’d actually started engines and had the doors closed and we were about to taxi when he turned up, and he was most indignant that we would’ve taken off without him. And we said, “Well we told you, we told you that we would leave you here.”
And that didn’t go over too well but that was the way it was.
the Queen’s crew, to fly her, so you have to be vetted and whatever. And the honour usually goes to whoever the senior co-pilot and usually the CO of the squadron. And at the time I was sort of second in line so the CO and this other pilot got gazetted to do the, to actually fly the Queen, so we got the best job. We got to be the Queen’s back up aeroplane and back up crew, and that was just,
it was terrific because we just flew around behind them, twenty minutes behind them, just in case the aeroplane broke, ever broke down, they would just swap aeroplanes with us. So our aeroplane was kitted out and fitted exactly the same as their aeroplane so we had all their rations, same rations as they had, all the same grog that they had, all the same everything that they had. And we just flew around very casually, no pressure, no nothing on us and the other crew were highly stressed the
whole time, make sure they were on time and best behaviour and we just bummed around and ate all the Queen’s rations that they didn’t eat on the way.
Like Prime Minister Hawke, he was always a, he was always a hoot, he was always funny but, and a nice guy and always wanted to be involved in things. I remember they got a, one night they got a new car for him, I think it was when the new... oh they had an LTD [Luxury Ford] or something that he used to drive around in and the driver turned up to pick him up one night
and they’d got a new Commodore Statesman or something like that. So Hawkey goes, “Oh a new car, beauty!” He said, “I might have a drive then.” The driver sort of looked at him a bit funny and Hawkey jumped into the driver’s seat and tore off on the tarmac, left burning rubber on the tarmac as he went. That’s him, he’s a lad. He was always like that. So yeah that’s some of the insight you get to see.
Saw a few of the royals around, they’re, they were always interesting sort of people, interesting to the point of eccentric but some of them were okay, some of them weren’t.
Okay so how long were you flying the VIPs around for?
About three years. I, the Back 1-11 was retired, normally a posting to VIP is two years but because the aeroplane was about to be retired and it wasn’t worth training anybody else up, they asked, they said, you know, “Can we keep you for another year?” And I said, “Yeah, I don’t mind, I’ll stay.” So I stayed for an extra year and I actually saw the aeroplane out of service, I flew it to Sydney on its last flight,
where it was then disposed of, it was then sold overseas. So yeah, about three years I was there. Saw the end of that one and then got posted to Caribous up in Townsville, which was again, a good thing.
they had trialled a couple of things. One thing they trialled was taking guys straight off pilot’s course, they just showed an aptitude for instructing and tried to, instead of giving them any operational experience put them straight onto pilot’s course as instructors, which is a thing they do in America. So they did that and it was reasonably successful, it only lasted about two guys I think, but the two guys that they took did okay.
And my CO when I was at VIP at the time said, “Well look if you’re gonna take guys straight off course, take this guy,” you know, “out of VIP.” And they said, “Oh no, he hasn’t got enough operational experience.” And they said, “Well you’re taking guys straight off instructor’s course, why not take this guy?” It went backwards and forwards for a while and they said, “No, we’ll give him a quick posting to Caribous and give him some operational experience and then we’ll send him to instructor’s course,” which they did. So that worked out
good in the end cause I enjoyed my time flying Caribous.
live in the bush aeroplane, whereas VIP transport was shiny, bright fast, stay in five star hotels. So I sort of got posted up here and immediately got sent out into the bush to go camping with the squadron in the dirt and the dust and play army, and I thought, “Gee this doesn’t really appeal to me very much.”
But that’s what, that’s how Caribous were, you know, we were a field deployment aeroplane and once I got used to living in the bush, it was good, cause we did some really good work. And all, lots of short range, low level, small airfields, hard night’s work and stuff like that, and it was good, it was an interesting time.
which, you know, people used to do and still do, low fly when you’re perhaps not authorised to fly as low as what you are. But Caribous is, that’s where we live, we live down low, we fly low level and we fly into the short strips and that’s what the whole thing, that’s what the whole aeroplane’s all about. And its good at that, what its not good at is going any great distance
cause its too slow. So yeah that, there was a big change and that was good, cause its all hands on flying and its all, it makes you a much better pilot, cause you fly a lot. No auto pilot, no modern equipment, its all real basic flying, and it was good, real enjoyable experience. So when I got the opportunity to come back as an instructor, back
to Caribous, that, I jumped at it.
that. But I did have a, I had a major in, that was in the last posting, that was when I was squadron leader and senior flying instructor and the whole thing up here. I ran in to some trees doing a low level training exercise, which thankfully the aeroplane flew through. Did a fair amount of damage to the wing but being a big, tough aeroplane it survived, and it was through sheer luck that we survived rather
than through anything else I guess. But it was just one of those things that happened, I can’t explain how I managed to hit the tree and neither could the board of inquiry that did the investigation on it. Other than to say that it was one of those optical illusions, that I thought I had enough room to turn, I thought the ground behind me was lower that what it was, and as I turned I just ran into it. And yeah,
thankfully the aeroplane kept going. So yeah, that wasn’t one of my better days but you get that. That’s one of the operational hazards I guess of the sort of training that we do and the sort of operations that we do. I don’t make an excuse for the, for making the mistake but that, that sometimes happens.
Its just one of those things, we’re all human beings and we’re flying close to the limits all the time and in this case we didn’t leave quite enough margin for error. I made an error and as a result we wore a couple of trees. The aeroplane survived, it got fixed, took a long time to fix it, and I test flew it after it was fixed.
me up a little bit, it shook me up for a little while. I was back flying, you know, within a few days of the accident. It didn’t scare me off flying or whatever, it made me a little bit more cautious about some of the things I did, but basically just continued on. You learn from your mistake and try not to make it again and make sure that nobody else that you train makes that mistake. That’s
just life. Yeah, I continued to fly for another... in fact the accident probably kept me in the air force for a bit longer. I was planning on resigning anyway, I had planned to resign at the end of the year and then I had the accident and I thought, ‘Well I can’t resign now, I don’t want to resign now because it will look like I’m resigning because I’ve had this accident.’
And that wasn’t the reason I was resigning anyway, I was gonna resign, I was going to resign anyway. So I hung around for another twelve months to keep flying, make sure that, make sure that I knew in my own heart that I wasn’t resigning cause I had an accident, I’s resigning cause I’d had enough. And I flew for another twelve months and I knew I’d had enough, and I then resigned and got out.
Did a bit of fodder dropping and stuff like that to people but nothing particularly exciting. Then I went off and did instructor’s course, when I came back the second time then, there was a few things going on. There’s, we did a lot of stuff in New Guinea, we did, we used to train a lot in New Guinea, because its a great place to fly Caribous, the place is
purpose built for Caribous, its got lots and lots of little remote airfields all around the place, like they’re everywhere, every village has got an airfield, cause you can’t get in there any other way. And they’re all built just big enough to take Caribous and the aeroplane is ideal for going into those little short sloping strips. So we used to train up there a lot and the mountainous terrain and the poor weather
and all that sort of stuff. If you can fly a Caribou in New Guinea, you can fly a Caribou anywhere in the world, and that’s why we used to train there. And on my second tour, New Guinea was in a lot of trouble with drought, and there was drought and famine all through the place and the government got a request to come and do some drought relief ops. And
Caribous got picked to do it and I got picked to run it. So I ran the operation, I flew the missions with the guys, I trained people up there to do it and we operated up there on and off for about six months, taking water and rice and flour and oil, cooking oil
to all these little remote villages all over the place and we moved a lot of stuff. And it was really, really rewarding sort of stuff to see the people so appreciative of it, that we would do that for them. And it was good to give back the country, because we’d used their country for... Caribous have been operating up there for thirty-five years, forty years and we’d been using it to train all our people for so long,
it was good to be able to give the people whose airfields we use and sometimes chew holes in and tear up if its wet and boggy and stuff, that to give them back something, and it was good, it was really enjoyable.
in New Guinea, he had to do at least four trainers, four seven, four seven day intense training exercises up there. We do that for a reason, cause you make a mistake in New Guinea you’re dead. And I mentioned before a guy, an air force instructor who was flying a civilian Caribou up there and who had some bad luck, his aeroplane had an engine failure and he crashed and died and was killed. I just recently just lost
another guy that I knew up there, he was a civilian operating up there and he crashed and died. Another air force guy who was operating up there with, doing some training with the army, helping them out with some of their training, they all walked, oh they didn’t walk away but they all got out of the aeroplane, but they crashed, they made a mistake. Wrecked the, wrote the aeroplane off and were carried out of the jungle by the locals.
And we’ve lost several Caribous we’ve lost up there as well. In fact the, probably one of the worst peace time accidents Australia’s ever had would be a Caribou crash up there, and there’s twenty something people killed in a Caribou accident. Lots of PN.., they had a, PNG [Papua New Guinea] cadets in the back of the aeroplane and all but about two or three I think
were killed, all the crew was killed. And we’ve crashed a couple of others up there as well. That was the only fatality I think, if I remember correctly.
So yeah, we do take our training very seriously up there. And as I said, it was good to have done that training to then be able to use that training to give the people back something, cause the conditions that were, when we first went up there to do the drought relief, the conditions were just terrible. The, cause it was so dry, everything was on fire the whole time, the whole countryside was on fire, so the smoke haze was, reduced
visibility down to next to nothing. And it was only that I’d flown up certain valleys to get to various airfields so many times that I was familiar with them, that I would be able to say, ‘Well I know that’s Anongi [?] airfield, I know that’s, cause that’s what it is, so if we go up here we should come to this next airfield, then we’ll go to this airfield, then we’ll go to there and we’ll go to there.’ So it was like flying along with a big white stick out the front of the aeroplane, just sort of prodding
your way up the valleys and making sure you could get through, but it was exciting times initially.
the, the people of Kagi had a big celebration for us, they were one of the recipients of... oh wasn’t Kagi at all, it was Kongi, Kongi was the air
field that they had this big celebration. So we told them that we would land at a certain time, we took three aeroplanes in to this little airfield. And they had a little ceremony and they presented us with some beads and some spears and all this sort of stuff and there was all local villagers from all around the place had all turned up and they’d all made little Australian flags that they waved, and all the kids
were there, that was terrific. But the whole time it was, they wanted to have it in the afternoon, and that’s the worst time to do anything in New Guinea cause the weather closes in. So the whole time I’m sitting on there watching the clouds rolling in over the hills and going, ‘Oh we gotta get outa here,’ and course you couldn’t get up and leave half way through the ceremony. So we got there and the airfield basically fogged in and we couldn’t get out so we sat and we
waited and we waited and we waited. And we were just about to the point where we may as well start getting ready to camp the night in the back of the aeroplane cause we’re not gonna get out and this tiny little opening opened up in the clouds. And I said, “I reckon we’ll get out of there if we can get out, get airborne and we can get down into that valley we should be right, we’ll get out. And all the other crews said, “Well you go first.” “I was sort of hoping
one of you guys’d go first.” But so anyway I got airborne and as it turned out it was quite a good gap down through, so I got airborne and called the other guys to come up and they all followed me out. And we got out, out for the night which was good cause I didn’t really fancy the night, spending the night at Kagi.
the house. So during that time we had all the walls cut out and all the carpet taken up and we just sort of got that finished and I got called in and said next one was at Irian Jaya. And I think they gave me about three days or four days to plant it and so off we went to Irian Jaya to do a similar sort of thing.
Except this time we weren’t the main distribution aeroplane this time, we were basically the support aeroplane, cause Irian Jaya, the airfield in Irian Jaya weren’t quite set up right to take Caribous so the army got involved with Black Hawks. So the Black Hawks were doing the actual distribution of the rice and the water and stuff and we were their support aeroplane, so we would fly fuel to and from the main base up to their little forward
base. And we’d fly some supplies and we’d also be their aeroplane for administrative type stuff, to bring people backwards and forwards and do whatever. So it was, I think it lasted about another two or three months and we did that in about three or four week stints. I did the first stint for three or four weeks then another crew did three weeks, then another crew did three weeks then I did the last three or four weeks as well, so I did two stints over there doing that.
And that was good too, it was a bit different, it wasn’t, probably wasn’t as satisfying as the New Guinea thing cause we didn’t have that interaction with the actual people. We basically, we were just for the support, but it was quite good, saw another culture and a different outlook on life. And then back from that and it wasn’t too much longer, another twelve months and we’re off to East Timor.
so I went down and learned how to teach people how to fly, and in doing so you learn a lot about how to fly yourself. You learn a lot of things that you thought you knew what you were doing, but you’re actually, you really don’t know what you’re doing, and you learn how to do a lot of stuff. So that’s a three months course, three months of back to basics, you basically do pilot’s course all over again in three months,
so that you then can go over and teach the guys how to fly. And in the time of me graduating from pilot’s course and coming and doing instructor’s course we’d changed all the aeroplanes, so the CT-4 and the Macci were no more, we now only had, we had the PC-9 [Pilatus aircraft] and we taught people to fly from, straight off the street with no experience to wings standard in the one aeroplane, the PC-9, so it took a bit of getting used to too.
Yeah, through instructor’s course and over to 2FTS [No. 2 Flying Training School] to learn how to teach students how to fly.
We have a syllabus and we have an instructor guide that each flight has a certain number of things that we have to achieve and we have ways of achieving them. So we may have, you know, like their first, or their first couple of flights might be, basic flight controls, so
you might teach them how to fly straight and level and turning, left and right. So you’ll demonstrate to them how, “Okay, this is the aeroplane and its straight and level, and this is the attitude, looking out the window where the horizon cuts the windscreen, that’s the attitude for straight and level flight at this speed. Do you see that?” “Yes.” “Okay, well when I hand over, I want you to maintain that attitude.” So you hand over and the aeroplane goes, ‘crr,’ all over the place. So you
do a demonstration, then you do it direct where you tell them, “No, no, bring the nose up a little bit further, no, no, lower the nose a bit,” and then, “You see that?” “Yes,” blah, blah, blah. And then there’s the next phase which is to monitor, so you do a demonstration, then you direct, tell them how to do it, while they do it, and then you sit back and watch them do it and say nothing and see if they can actually, whether they’ve actually learned how to do it. And when they can do that, then you progress on to the next thing, so once they’ve learned how to do straight and level, then you’ll teach them how to
do level turns, then you’ll teach them how to do climbing and descending, and then you’ll teach them how to do climbing turns and descending turns, then you progress through that. And each time they get in the aeroplane, each time you go back, make sure they know what they learned last flight and then teach them the new stuff, and build it altogether until they can do the whole lot.
I guess I was successful, I had a few guys that I had that graduated. I don't think I had any big problems with anybody, I don't think anybody had any great problems with me. And I enjoyed it, I liked it. I used to like doing a few other things as well, I was a,
I was a maintenance test pilot over there as well, so that was good. When the aircraft came out of maintenance, if it needed a test flight for something, I could jump in it and go and do the test flight, and I could do that by myself without, so I didn’t have to take a student with me. And so you had a little break away from having to teach all the time, you actually got to go and do some stuff. And that was rewarding cause I used to find it a little bit,
a little bit frustrating at times that if you couldn’t get through to the student that you’d fly for an hour, hour and a half and get on the ground, you go, “Well we haven’t achieved very much, we haven’t really progressed very far.” I had one poor student who, if he ever sees this, he’ll know who I’m talking about, but he was hopeless, he was never ever gonna be a pilot, no matter what I did to try and teach him, he had no
idea, no idea at all. And eventually I had to, I was only a fairly junior instructor at the time and I thought, ‘I’m not getting through to this guy, I’ll give him to one of the more senior instructors.’ So I talked to one of the guys and said, “Look can you have a go with this guy cause I can’t get through to him, he’s got no idea.” So off he went with him, come back, and he said, “What have you been teaching him?” I said, “I don't know, what’d he do?”
And he told me that this guy had done something completely, completely stupid. And I said, “Well I didn’t teach him that.” And he said, “No, I know you didn’t, but that’s what he thought you wanted him to do.” And I just went, “Oh, if that’s what he thought, he’s got no hope.” He said, “No, you’re right there,” he said, “he’s never gonna do anything.” So I think he only lasted about half a dozen rides, ten rides, and we got rid of him, which
was a shame cause he was a hell of a nice kid, just had no idea, had no idea at all, and was never ever gonna learn, so unfortunate for him but. But you find it frustrating if you can’t get through to a guy, but sometimes you just have to say, “Well, I can’t do anything more than I’m doing, I’ve done everything as I was supposed to do it and I just can’t get through to him.” And as a junior instructor that happens fairly regularly
because you really don’t know, although you have all the theory on how to teach guys, you yourself are still learning, you’re still keeping, catching up with the aeroplane. You’re still flying the aircraft and you’re not that comfortable with it and the guy in the front, you’re busy flying yourself, you haven’t got a lot of time to see what he’s up to. As time progressed over there, you become far more
relaxed with the aeroplane, you can fly it a lot better than you could when you first got there, you got a lot more time to actually look at things, cause in the PC-9 you sit behind the guy so all you can see of him is the back of the ejection seat and a little bit of his head. But as time goes on you can learn a lot by watching that guy’s head, so you can see where he’s looking and why, why if he’s in a turn,
to turn onto finals, if he’s, keeps turning inside and not lining up properly, you just watch his head and you go, “You’re not looking at the right thing, you’re looking in the wrong place.” “Oh, so I am.” You know, “You should be looking out the front now, not down there, that’s why the aeroplane’s doing this.” So as you get more experienced it becomes a lot easier. But you know, everybody has to learn, so I guess there’s probably a few students that copped bad instructors
for their first couple of rides that maybe, or copped inexperienced instructors for their first few rides who probably could get a better start in life, but we try and mix ‘em up so you don’t exclusively fly with the same instructor every day. So I found that, I found it, initially, at the start very difficult as an instructor, but towards the end as I became more,
more comfortable with the aeroplane I found it a lot easier. And I enjoyed it, it was good to get some of these kids and teach them how to fly. Then going to back to then leave from 2FTS as an instructor and going back to Caribous to fly as a Caribou instructor, then it was a lot easier cause I already, I knew how to fly the Caribou. And now
I knew how to teach, and the Caribou was a lot easier to teach people cause you sat side by side in it, so you could actually sit there and look at him, and you could see his eyes, you could see where his eyes were looking and where his hands were moving. And if he wasn’t looking at the right place you just reach over and grab his head and move it around so it was a lot easier to teach him that the PC-9 was.
oh from memory its about five and a half thousand feet above sea level elevation, its got a very high, steep slope on it, and its only, its about fifteen hundred feet long, very short airfield, so five hundred metres long, and its got a bend in the middle of it. So its quite a challenging strip, not
somewhere that we’d go all the time and its very rough as well. But they were, at Anongi, they were having to walk from where they are up on the top of the ridge line right down into the bottom of the valley to get any water, cause they had no water up where they were, they had, normally they would store water from rain water and stuff. But they had no rain so they were walking all the way down to the bottom of the hill to get water and then hand carting it back up the hill. And so they probably
expending more fluid walking up and down the hill than what they were doing carrying it all the way back, but that’s what they chose to do. And that was, you know, the same story in a couple of places we went, there was another place we went, when we landed there the only people that came out, and normally the whole village comes out, but the only people who came out were women and small children. And I said, “Where are all the men?” And
through a lady that spoke a little bit of English, and I speak a little bit of pidgin [pidgin English], so we managed to communicate a little bit. And she said, “All the men have gone down, they’ve walked to the coast,” which was a day walk, to the coast because they’d heard that a barge was coming to the coast to bring them food. And sure enough two, couple of days later when we were putting in the last lot of stuff in there, all the men came wandering back and they had managed to gather some food while they were
on their way. But by the time they got back there was a mountain of food that we delivered for them, so they had a two-day walk for a bit of exercise. But you know, they were happy.
a lot of politics that went into it before we went, which we weren’t privy to, but there had to be a lot of shoring up of relationships, because we were basically going in there to help the local Irianjay.., Irianese people. And the Indonesians who had annexed the country years ago, they didn’t seem to think it was a big problem that those people up in the hills were starving.
And, I mean, they had resources, they had aeroplanes, they had helicopters they could’ve done the drought relief themselves but they chose not to. So we did, and that perhaps caused some animosity, but at a local level, at sort of our level, we didn’t have a great lot of problem with them, we were always sort of quite friendly with them. But they were also, they were
also doing what they always do, there’s a lot of intelligence gathering going on, checking out aeroplanes, checking out who we were, what pilots were there, what aircrew were there, yeah they would’ve built up a bit of a file on us I suspect.
of the annexing of their country. So there was a riot in Jayapura, you know, with rubber bullets fired and all that sort of stuff, university students, you know, waving banners and placards and the Indonesian police coming him with the batons and rifles and the rubber bullets, and that was just a way of life for them. And there was, there was an incident in the hotel we were staying at
where one of the local Irian, local true Papuans who had been on this particular independence drive and got drunk and came in and made a bit of a scene in the hotel, trying to get us to support him and, you know, while we’re here, why can’t we throw the Indonesians out while the military, Australian military’s here but, yeah,
just usual sort of drunk thing. He was fairly quickly carted off by some Indonesian policemen and whatever happened to him, I don't know, but I suspect it wouldn’t have been very pleasant.
Yeah, okay, that kind of answered that. So, also what would, say, just take us through, I know every day was probably different but say roughly, like a typical day up there in Irian Jaya?
A typical day in Irian Jaya? Because Irian Jaya is, you know, tropical mountainous sort of area, you’ve gotta get your work done early because the weather tends to close in, again, in the afternoon. So a typical day would be, you know, up and out of the aeroplane sort of seven or eight o'clock in the morning,
couldn’t achieve, how we would achieve it, how many aeroplanes we’d take, how we’d do the maintenance rotation, how we would physically go about loading the aeroplanes and unloading them. Who I wanted up there, as in what maintenance, what logistics support we had. And the thing just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Once we’d started
it was like a snow ball effect, once we were starting to do drought relief to one little area, somebody else would put their hand up, ‘Can we have some drought relief? Can we have some drought relief?’ So it just got bigger and bigger and bigger. Eventually towards the end of it, not only were Caribous involved but Black Hawk helicopters had been dragged into it and Chinook helicopters had been dragged into the drought relief, so it turned out to be a very, very big operation to
move things, but the Caribous started it.
on all the things that we couldn’t do while we were doing drought relief. Cause again, those sorts of operations, drought relief and... that’s only one very narrow aspect of what Caribou operations is all about. So while you’re tied up doing that you can’t do all the other things that you need to be able to do, so we had to catch up on a lot of, a lot of our other ongoing training that we didn’t have a chance
to do. So we were back into that, trying to get all that done. All the flying that we’d done up there took a fair chunk of maintenance time out of the aeroplanes, so all the maintenance staggers were all sort of shot to pieces we had to try and get them back right again. So it was basically a catch up period, to try and get everything back,
but back to business as usual, back to flying with the army. Moving army personnel from point A to point B, operating on exercises, night vision goggle training, all the stuff that we didn’t do while we were over there.
And in fact probably oh, two months I guess before the, before we actually deployed into East Timor, we had aeroplanes sitting around the country on stand by ready to go. In fact we had a crew in Darwin, we had two crews in Darwin sitting up there waiting to launch in. It took so long for the politics to occur that those crews that were sitting in Darwin who were going
to be our lead crews to go in, basically had time expired up there. So we had to change them over, so my number came up again and it was, ‘Okay, off you go, you go, you plan it, get everything ready to, get your crews ready to go in when the time comes.’ So we went up to Darwin, we were up Darwin for a couple of weeks I guess just sitting,
waiting for the call to go in. And of course the Hercules aircraft was up there, were up in Darwin as well because they would be the main transport aircraft to take all the troops that were going in, in. And we also had, we had ships, you know, floating around in Darwin as well waiting to go in. So when the call finally came to go, the Hercules took all our troops in,
and we waited, I mean we weren’t much good at moving big numbers of people over that distance, we were too slow and couldn’t carry enough. So we just sat and waited until they had us, an airfield secure, somewhere that we could put an aeroplane and base it, and about, probably ten or twelve days I guess after the first troops went in, we got the call,
‘Okay launch.’ So initially it was two aeroplanes, we took two aircraft, I led the first one with one of my other crews in the other aeroplane. A very small, very small group, we had six pilots and three flight engineers, so two, three basic crews and we
only took six maintenance people with us, and that was it. And we launched in there with that very minimal amount of people, got ourselves set up at Dili and course there was a heap of other units on the ground there at Dili so we sort of plugged in to some of their assets as well. But we were pretty much self sufficient for the
first couple of weeks that we went in. And then, oh we took us about two or three days to get ourselves on the ground, get ourselves sorted out, and then we started operating around the country. We did a bit of reconnaissance around for a few airfields to make sure they were suitable for our operations, and then we started and we just started working around the place.
cause we didn’t really know what to expect. The militia we didn’t, we didn’t consider the militia to be a huge problem, we didn’t think the militia were ever going to sort of rise up and defeat or fight against, you know, us, we had a couple, we had several thousand people over there. What was more of a worry was that the Indonesian military were still on the ground there and we, we
really didn’t know what to expect from the Indonesian military. And I think Cosgrove made a pretty brave thing that he did when the first deployment was due to go in. He actually flew in the day before in a VIP jet and he just landed at Dili and he walked over to the commander of the Indonesian forces and said, “I’m bringing in my troops tomorrow.” And they said, “Okay,” and that’s, that’s basically how
it went, and the next day the Hercules started rolling in, and we didn’t really know. So, you know, you put a bunch of young people, you know, our guys were well trained but they’re all running around with live weapons in their hands all fully armed, fully loaded, with live bullets, and that puts a bit of a different light on things, you know. You can do a lot of exercises, training
with blanks and then when you actually get somewhere and you got real live bullets in it, it makes it a little bit different. And when you’re sitting here and across the road from you are, you know, Indonesian military who are also sitting there with real live bullets, who probably aren’t all that pleased with the fact that the Australian Army and Air Force are sitting in what used to be their country and they’re about to get the shove out the door, you think,
‘Yeah, you know, probably not, its probably a fairly tense situation,’ and it did get a bit tense at times. And there’s lots of the buildings that’d been destroyed by the militia or the military or the police or whoever did the damage, you know, that had graffiti on walls, you know, being quite
derogatory about Australians and what they were gonna do to us and how they were gonna defeat us and all this sort of stuff scrawled all over walls. And you think, ‘Yeah, if it ever came to a shooting match it would be very unpleasant,’ but it never came to that between us. The army on the border, you know, had some sporadic fighting with militia but around Dili and where we were, it was pretty good.
Well what were your first impressions of Dili as you arrived?
Probably what a waste, what a complete, completely devastating waste of a country and how could people do that to their own people. You know, the whole place was on fire, the whole country was on fire and hardly a building had been spared from either being burned or knocked down or whatever. God knows how many people had been killed, I don't think they’ll ever
really know how many people got killed. And there, how many people were displaced out of their homes and pushed across the border into West Irian, ah, into West Timor. And how many people from West, those East Timorese who were displaced into West Timor never came back, you know, I don't think we’ll ever really know how many there were. But
but they just devastated the whole, the whole place was just a total, total mess.
And quite often they would be quite badly beaten up, those people, you know, like beaten up beyond recognition. That, you know, they’d been caught by the local people, were recognised as being militia and had been beaten senseless, and had to be taken back for treatment or whatever, so that was hard. You know, I don't think,
I don't think the East Timorese people had a lot to start with, you know, again its a pretty much, its a third world country, but what they did have they obviously enjoyed and what they were left with was nothing, absolutely nothing, so all those hard things that they had to live with before, became a hell of a lot harder. And we carted a lot of, you know, very sick people, a lot of sick children,
carried them back for medical treatment and took people back to their families who’d been displaced and lots of good rewarding stuff as well, but lots of really sad stuff too.
somebody was there to help them and that all this mindless burning and violence and stuff was going to stop. They were still scared though, they were scared that there was, that what the Australians was gonna offer them would be no better than what the Indonesians was gonna offer them. Cause the Indonesian, you know, the militia had told them that we would come and, you know, and take over their life and rape them and all,
the sort of propaganda that people do. So they were scared but they came around and eventually they were, you know they were a really nice, they’re a really nice nation of people as well, they’re nice friendly, you know, little kids are happy. And as time went on and, you know, we would build things for them and buy things for them and you know, do up their kindergartens and their schools and,
and the kids’d follow you around and you’d throw ‘em the lollies our of your ration packs. And that could be a double edged sword cause you’d have a thousand of them chasing you around looking for your lollies out of your ration packs. But yeah they were a, they were really a friendly nation and pleased to be getting the help that they were getting. And I hope now that they’ve had that, that the nation goes on and expands and becomes what it
could be, you know, its just a fantastic, a fantastic country.
air traffic control services and, you know, basic water and a real basic sort of camp facilities, they’d set that up. But for us, we arrived and were told, ‘That’s your area there that you can camp in,’ and we went in pretty much self sufficient, so we had our own tents.
We set up our tents, we got some ration packs off ‘em. We said, “Give us some rations, give us some water, give us fuel, give us oil, give us oxygen, give us whatever we need for the aeroplanes, and after that we’ll, we’re self sufficient.” And that’s how the operation ran.
everything we need. The whole idea of the expeditionary combat support squadron was that we should’ve just been able to turn up and jump into one of their tents and use their showers and use their facilities, but they had to go in pretty light as well, so they didn’t have a lot of excess other than their own, their own support gear. So we’d taken a lot of our own gear with us, so we’d taken our own shower
buckets, we’d taken our own personal tents to sleep in, our own sleeping bags, stretchers. Our own, you know, knives, forks, spoons, cups, plates, that’s, all that sort of gear. Obviously we’d taken enough water for a couple of days for ourselves, then after that was the job of the combat support squadron to look
after us, which they tried to do but they just... It was the first time really that a combat support squadron had been tested in a real deployment and from my perspective they struggled a little bit. They did their best but...
with ammunition, with... I mean the amount of ammu... we could’ve taken over half of the world I think, the amount of ammunition we took over there, just in case. But all that stuff had to go and that was a higher priority, a higher priority than, you know, additional tents. You take a minimum number of tents, make do with them, we’ll bring over the other stuff later. And later never came, later there was always higher priority stuff.
Which made life a bit hard especially for us, you know, because we, we’re trying to get stuff in to do our job and they’re saying, “Well you can’t have it, there’s higher priority things to come in.” And sometimes it was a bit silly because some of that higher priority stuff would arrive to be transported somewhere, and we’d be the ones who would be responsible for transporting it but we couldn’t transport it because they hadn’t sent us a,
a particular part or a piece of equipment that we needed. So they’ve said, “No, priority, this is the priority piece of equipment that’s gotta go.” So it turns up and we say, “Well we can’t fly it because the piece of equipment that you left behind is the part we need to fix the aeroplane. So bring us the part to fix the aeroplane and then we’ll take your part, your piece of equipment that you want transported down to wherever, we’ll then take that.”
a real hard thing to get, cause the aeroplane has oxygen cylinders on board and we would sometimes have to use it to, if we were flying above ten thousand feet, we would go onto oxygen. We rarely did but we would need it, so if we’d try and order an oxygen cylinder, they’d say, “Well, what do you need that for?” “Cause we need it.” “Well helicopters don’t use it.” Cause, I mean,
its hard for somebody who’s not in the, in an air force logistics chain to understand that without that the aeroplane doesn’t work. So to try and convince them of that was sometimes quite difficult. And the two systems are different, the army system of allocating priority things is different to the air force system of allocating priority things. So we would say, “We need it, we need it
now!” But that, in the army, equates to, ‘You need it sometime in the next week.’ Whereas when the army says, “We need it now,” they mean, like, ‘We need it sometime this week.’ So, ‘We need it two days ago,’ that means they need it in three day’s time. So the two logistics systems just never sort of plugged in to one another, and it took quite a while to figure that stuff out. And eventually we ended up short cutting the system and going outside anyway to get the bits and pieces we wanted.
as the system, within a month or two of getting there the system had worked itself out, so that things were happening and things, and things happened properly. So, you know, it was a matter of us putting an air force logistics person in to the chain to look after air force logistics, and once we’d done that, then you had very little problem after that. But before that, when we first got there, everybody had their priority, everybody tried
to get what they wanted done and they, there was just a little bit too individualistic. Having said that, the job got done, it got done well but, you know, from sitting down where I was, saying, “I really need this now, I don’t really want to wait four or five days for it,” that just got a little bit frustrating. But at the end of the day, big scheme of things, it all worked.
and Los Palos, they were on, all on the mainland. And then later on another airfield become available down at a little enclave called Oecussi that we used to operate into. And we would just, we would fly to any of those places that we were tasked to go to and take whatever was needed to go into there. Because Suai, Suai wasn’t
Hercules capable, so they couldn’t take a Herc [Hercules] in there, although they tried a couple of times, they decided it wasn’t suitable. So the only way of getting stuff into Suai was either by helicopter or by us. The Italians had a G-222 [transport aircraft] operating there for a little while but it didn’t prove to be too successful either. So yeah, that was our role
was go there, and we would carry anything from fuel to people to militia to water, rations, tents, anything. And yeah, we did it day or night depending on what the requirement was. Didn’t do a lot of night work but we did some.
all the displaced persons to come back, and any militia to hand in your weapons and come back and, you know, as long as you hand in your weapons and come back you won’t be, you won’t be punished. So we had to fly along the border to do that, we were under fairly strict guide lines as to where we could and couldn’t fly. And the Indonesians were,
were I think pretty serious that if we infringed into Indonesian air space that they would shoot us. So we had to sort of fly along the border fairly carefully and not infringe into it, and hope like hell that nobody shot at us. I don't think anybody did, we didn’t get any holes in the aeroplanes, but that was the only time, that was the only time over there that I was
sort of concerned that somebody might shoot at me. In fact that was the only time we flew with our flak jackets on, that was the only mission that we flew with our flak jackets on. Then we decided that was just unbearable so we sat on them instead, just in case somebody shot at us from below, yeah.
Step me through flying at night with your night vision goggles and all that kind of thing?
Its hard to describe. I guess you see it on TV [Television], you know, the green mist over everything and you only get the shadow, the contrast, that’s what its like. Its like flying with blinkers on and only that small field of view, and its all green. The goggles are good though, they, on a, you know, if you got a little bit of starlight or moonlight around, then you can define things quite well.
And they’re a hell of a lot easier than what, the way we used to operate. We used to operate in the pitch black with no aids at all, you know, we’d have to have you know, a few landing lights on the ground to be able to land but with goggles you can operate without any sort of ground aids at all. Although we liked to have a couple of infra red lights on the ground to be able to, just
to find thresholds and things. So they’re are big step from where we were, they make life a lot safer than what it was. But you can get yourself into a lot of trouble with them, if you don’t know what you’re doing. But the Caribou, we’ve developed, you know, really, really good procedures on how to use them, they’ve only, we’ve only been using them for probably the last eight or ten years I guess.
And there’s been a lot of development over that time of how we should go about doing it but I would much rather operate with a set of night vision goggles on my head than without ‘em.
as I was the lead detachment commander, I picked two months as a time to go. Again because the operation in East Timor was so limited, it was basically just one element, there was very little stuff that we could do. We could only do a little bit of, little bit of just normal day
general flying, general landing on air strips that weren’t particularly challenging, nothing was particularly difficult over there. There was no navigation aids over there so we couldn’t do any instrument flying training. The operation, the night operations were very limited on what we would do, the conditions for aircrew over there were pretty austere in that, you know, we were in the field
in tents. When, even when we actually got into some buildings, you know, when we found some buildings that we could clean up and use, we were still, you know, very, very tight and very basic accommodation. And it was hot over there, and so fatigue became a real big problem, so we had this repetitiveness of fairly mundane tasking. We had pretty basic
living conditions and fatigue was becoming, would become a player. So I said, “Look, at two month’s time, at two months, the guys will be below their best, and I don’t want ‘em to be below their best. So take ‘em over for two months, send ‘em back, bring in some fresh guys and then we’ll re-rotate those guys again in a few months time.” And that meant that they could go home and they could catch up on all the things that they hadn’t
done, they hadn’t been doing while they were in East Timor. So they could catch up on their instrument flying training, instrument flying. They could catch up on their air drop capabilities and they could catch up on all their other, all the other, the myriad of other things that they weren’t doing while they were in East Timor. And I stuck by that and I stuck by two months. Even when UN took over and UN said, “No, you have to stay for three months.” I said, “Well we’re not going to stay for three months, we’ll stay for two months.”
And that met with a lot of resistance. I don't know I think I was right, I hope I was right. It meant that none of the aircrew, or very few of the aircrew got the... we all got the INTERFET medal, but virtually none of us got the UN medal for East Timor because we didn’t do ninety days. Although a lot of the guys did, you know, they did,
they did sixty days here and then they did another sixty days over here and then they did another sixty days here so they, you know, they might’ve done a hundred and eighty days but cause they hadn’t done ninety days continuous, the UN said, “No, you either do ninety days continuous or you don’t get the UN medal,” so most of the aircrew didn’t get it. And some of the guys were a bit peeved about that, they thought that they should have got it. And they thought that they should stay for ninety days and get it, and I dug me heels in and said, “No we’re not.”
“We’re not, it’ll be that last...” you could notice the decline, you notice the decline in the guys after about the six week mark, in that you know, they, they’d had enough of being there, their skills were starting to reduce. They were tired and they needed to go and they needed a break, so I said, “Eight weeks, that’s it.”
you, when you got back home you were continually feeling for where your gun was, cause you had, everywhere you went you had to have it over in East Timor, you couldn’t leave it anywhere. So it was sort of like, it was like your handbag if you like, everywhere you went you were looking for your gun when you got back, but everybody was pretty pleased to get back. But the trouble with the Caribou world was because we’re such, we’re a fairly small outfit and as,
as time progressed, we initially went in with only two Caribous but we ended up over there with up to four and we had, you know, up to seven or eight aircrews in there at any one time. And that meant that guys would have to do a two-month rotation, go home for two months and then turn around and go back again. And, you know, some of the more junior guys, the,
that were there were going, ‘God, I’m gonna go back home, I’ll only be home for eight weeks, then I’ll have to come back again. And then I’ll go home and in another eight weeks time I’ll be back again.’ So some of them, towards the end, towards the end it got, it started to become a bit of a drag but again, that was the job, that’s what we were getting paid for. And that’s what we did, and we did it well.
life, if you like, the safety side of things concerned me, more than anything. I didn’t want fatigued guys over there trying to work and I didn’t, and same with the maintainers, I didn’t want the maintainers, I tried to fight for the maintainers to have short, shorter rotations too but I lost that argument, the maintainers had to do three month rotations I think.
But you would notice, you’d notice the decline in people trying to do what we did, you know. If you were, you know, depending on what your skills were, what your task was, you could perhaps have a longer period over there, but we’re expected to get in an aeroplane and fly it for a long period of time every day, you just simply can’t, you can’t
get the rest you need. Regardless of whether you’re tucked away in a decent bed or whether you’re in a tent, it still fatigues you after a certain amount of time. And the other problem was that your skills that you should have in the Caribou, in a Caribou, decline, because you’re not,
you’re not practising them every day, and you can’t practise them every day because there’s not the facilities in East Timor to do it. So you get where I’m coming, what I’m saying? So you’ve gotta get back to somewhere where you can practise those skills to still be a competent all round Caribou pilot, otherwise you become just a East Timorese transport pilot, and that’s not what we want. Cause the next time something comes up,
it might be in New Guinea or it might be in Irian Jaya again, or it might be, as it turned out to be in the Solomons, it could be anywhere in the world where we might need a different set of skills to those that we’ve got. And we have a preparedness directive that says we must maintain this many crews at this level of skill, and by leaving them in East Timor pretty more than two months, I couldn’t maintain that. So they either had to drop the directive
or allow me my two month rotations, and that’s what we did.
sort of thing all over the world with all different sorts of people, and they wanna control everything. So when the UN took over it became, it became a bureaucratic nightmare, in that everything that we were doing before, the UN now wanted
to reinvent. So you know, where we would, where we’d been operating quite happily into an airfield called Maliana, the UN wanted now to go and survey the airfield to make sure that it was safe for our operations. We said, “Look we’ve already surveyed it, we’ve been operating in there for all this period of time.” They said, “Well no, its got to meet our criteria.” So we went and of course it didn’t meet their criteria because their criteria
is civilian criteria and we’re a military aeroplane. So they wanted to try and control our military operations to accord with civilian operations, and the two don’t mix, don’t mix. So it took some convincing on our part to say, “Look, you just tell us what you want us to do and we’ll do it,” but they just couldn’t come to grips
with the fact that this military aeroplane... like they’re saying, I’m trying to explain to them that our aeroplane doesn’t even meet the civilian criteria for passenger carrying aircraft, its not a passenger carrying aircraft, its a military aeroplane, it carries military personnel, not civilian passengers, but they wanted us to cart civilian passengers in it. I said, “Well if you want us to cart civilian passengers then you’ll have to accept that its a military aircraft and it can’t operate under the,
the federal aviation laws.” So it took a bit of to-ing and fro-ing but we eventually got there. And they eventually gave up, the UN I think eventually gave up, just let ‘em operate, and we did, and we flew lots of people around, and we never had any trouble over there.
they were safe for people to fly in. So he came over and he inspected the aeroplane and he said, “Oh, you haven’t got any, you haven’t got passenger cards,” you know, like you get in your 747. You know, ‘In case of emergency, here’s your emergency exits and your life jackets under your seat,’ and all that sort of stuff. “Well we don’t have that, cause we’re a military aeroplane, we do a military induction into people that get on it.” They get told, you know, we don’t have time for them to come running in out of the bush,
jump on the aeroplane and for us to stand there and go, ‘The emergency exists are over here and behind you.’ You know, ‘Get in, sit down, put your seat belt on and we’re going. The engines are running, the engines are running and we’re out of here.’ So we had to do some induction training and we made up some passenger cards which basically got stuck on the aeroplane and nobody ever read, just basically to please them. They ticked off a couple of boxes,
they met their bureaucratic requirements and they were happy, and we went on and did our job.
we, they were still fairly, they were active on the airfield at the time. And as time went on and they withdrew and less and less of them were there, yeah, we’re sitting over our side of the road, you know, in tents with guns and not having much fun. And they were on the other side of the road having
parties and drinking grog and God knows what else, over the other side of the road, you know, having a good time. And that was, that was a little bit of a worry you know, that perhaps they were, you know, they’d get a bit out of control. But as it turned out there was no problem, they all packed up and flew out and shipped off.
a hell of a lot of rebuilding going on. The place was pretty secure now, the militia had been pretty much cleaned up. We had proper facilities, you know, we had a proper mess where we could eat, you know, cooking, cooked fresh food and what have you. Whereas you know, prior to that we’d been pretty much on ration packs
in the first tour, and you know, some prepared meals, you know, after the first few weeks, but ration packs for the first few weeks. So the, and then the, and we also had, instead of being in tents, we’d actually had some demountable huts that we could live in and proper showers. Proper showers and all that sort of stuff, so second time around it was a hell of a lot easier,
living-wise. But still the same problems, you know, with the flying, sort of things and the tasking became even more repetitive and more mundane than what it was under INTERFET. Under INTERFET we had a more military role to play and the tasking was a little bit more varied, whereas once we started operating with UN we became very much a regular bus service, so, you know, we would do the same
flight every day. Take off, go to Maliana, go to Suai, come back, go through, down, and come back to the thing, and you’d do that every , you’d do that twice a day. And then on other days you’d do the northern runs and on another day you’d do the southern run. So it became very, very repetitive, and very mundane, and that became even worse for the guys for
maintaining their skills and maintaining their interest. So, and there just wasn’t anywhere else that we could do anything over there, so again we stuck with the short rotations to keep the guys up to speed. Things under the UN became a lot different than they were with INTERFET as well in that, you know, under INTERFET,
my boss was a military guy, my, and my direct guy, the guy who was controlling the air force component was a transport pilot himself. So I could go to him and say, ‘This is what I propose to do and this is how I propose to do it,’ and he would say, ‘Yep that sounds good, go ahead and do that,’ or, ‘No, I think you should change your operation and do it this way.’ And he would accept that for what it was and he would then take it to
the INTERFET commander and say, “This is how my boys are gonna operate.” So having, you know, the air component commander there was a good thing. Under the UN, when things changed, our air component commander wasn’t necessarily a military guy, our detachment, our component commander wasn’t necessarily an air force guy, so he didn’t often understand the nuances of Caribou operations. So it took a lot more
explaining and convincing that, ‘This is how we operate, this is how we do it.’ And you’d have to tell ‘em time, and time, and time, and time, and time again, until it got through to the, to the sort of level that you needed people to understand. But although they had an air cell there, that they supposedly thought they knew what they were doing, their air cell unfortunately wasn’t as focused as perhaps our
military cell was when it was under INTERFET.
pilot’s experience levels, how many hours they had, what level of captaincy they were and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and all that information is classified. And I said, “There’s no reason for you to know that, you don’t need to know that, so I’m not going to tell ya.” And they said, “Well in that case then, you can’t fly.” I said, “Well
I’m still not gonna tell ya.” Anyway I eventually took it back through my chain of command and said, “Should I tell these guys this or not?” And they said, “No, don’t tell ‘em.” I said, “Well you tell ‘em that I’m not gonna tell ‘em.” But they just kept sending out this form, every day, they’d send out this form, ‘Please fill out this form,’ and I’d send it back with a big ‘NO’ written on it. And
eventually I think they kept bleating and whinging and whinging and whinging and whinging until air force office said, “Look give ‘em, give ‘em some information, just give ‘em the real, real, basics.” So we gave ‘em some real basics and they were happy then, and they went away. But, you know, if you don’t fill out this piece of paper, this form, then... and that was it. And just the strange ways they do things, you know, like,
like, they, they wanted to, they wanted, obviously cause they were paying for our flying hours, so somewhere, someone had to pay the bill. So we’d been operating over there under UN for how ever many weeks and all of a sudden they come out and they say, “We need one of these forms filled out for every mission that you’ve done.” And the information on it was just bizarre, stuff that we don’t track,
stuff that we don’t normally track like, ‘What time did you start the engines? What time did you shut down the engines? What time did you taxi?’ And that’s stuff we don’t record, so we weren’t able to give ‘em some of the stuff they wanted. Then they wanted us to go back weeks and weeks, there was a mountain of paper work this high. And I said, “We can’t do that, we don’t have that information.” They said, “Oh you’ll have to otherwise we’re not paying.”
So one of my poor junior co-pilots got the job of going back and recording all the, pulling out all the documents and getting all the flight details down. And, you know, if they had’ve told us at the start that’s what they wanted, then we would’ve been alright, but half way through they... “Oh by the way, we need this for the last six weeks.” “Oh yeah, okay, good-oh.”
it was very much a milk run, get up in the morning and you’d fly sort of nine o'clock, nine o'clock out, ten o'clock you land at Maliana and take off again before quarter past ten because everybody expects you to take off, fly down and land at Suai, and you get there at whatever time and you have to wait on the ground for an hour and then you go. So it became
very much like flying for a regional airliner, not the sort of work that we normally do. We’d also originally, when we went over there in the first place where our operations were such that we weren’t entirely sure whether anyone was gonna take a shot at us, so we would either operate at very high level,
out of small arms fire or at very low level to reduce the chance of us, of them getting a shot away at us. And as the, (a) the threat diminished and, (b) the fact that we were now operating under UN and their rules, all the low level stuff went out the window, we weren’t allowed to operate low level anymore, even though sometimes we had to through stress of weather.
So it became very mundane, it was very, very... it was a milk run.
we had the opportunity, as the time progressed, where we were allowed to have a beer, two drinks per day you’re allowed. And we also, and that became a good social point, guys would, you know, meet at the bar, we had our own bar at our area, have their two beers, have a bit of a chat, maybe watch some TV, watch a video or whatever we
were watching. And we had a, we set up a volleyball comp., and that was good, we had a beach volleyball comp. and that ran basically every night of the week, there’d be a game of beach volleyball on and people’d sit around and watch ‘em, and that sort of helped pass the time in. Guys went running, guys went, we went to the beach. We started to do a bit of touring around, go and have a look at some of the local sights and,
and stuff like that, once the security situation was such that we were able to. And as time progressed we allowed guys to go into town to the restaurants, we allowed them to go into the markets once the markets became sort of stable enough for people to go into. So things sort of freed up and guys found on their sort of, free time, they did have, they did have
stuff to do. But, you know, I read a lot of books while I was over there. I spent a lot of time in the operations room, we watched videos. We, you know we set up our own video library, one of the local, the local video shops here was kind enough to box up some videos and send ‘em over to us and we’d send ‘em back and they’d send back new ones,
once the network was up and running, you could pretty much call home anytime you felt like it, on your mobile. So that became, that became more of a distraction at times than a good thing, in that any time anybody had a problem at home they didn’t... like even the minor-est thing that would happen at home which
normally if you couldn’t ring your partner in, who was in East Timor, you’d deal with it yourself and get over it. Whereas we found with a lot of my guys, they were getting phone calls, you know, that, ‘Jimmy’s fallen off his bike and hurt his knee.’ And thinkin’, ‘Oh gee, oh my son’s fallen off his bike,’ you know, ‘I gotta go home.’ ‘Well, no,’ you know, ‘your wife can deal with that.’ And
so it did become a bit of a distraction in that they knew everything that was going on at home. Which was good, it was good in some ways and it was bad in others, you know what I mean. So you just had, we just had to be a little bit careful there and a lot of things were getting to people that they really didn’t need to know about. And we had a few marriage breakdowns and stuff like that where I had to get guys back home and,
and deal with their home life and stuff like that. I only had a few of those that I had to sort out.
much as anybody else. The second time round, where the tasking was pretty mundane and it was pretty basic sort of stuff, I probably flew about half as much as the on-line captains flew. So that was the only, that was a decision I made to keep them focused, to keep him interested. So well, ‘You’re over here, you got a job to do, you can take as many flying hours as you can
fit, I’ll fly with you occasionally to keep an eye on what’s going on.’ So I was probably flying you know, thirty-five, forty hours a month, whereas they’re flying seventy or eighty hours a month. And that was, that was the way I liked it, they could take the lion’s share of the flying and I could get on with the man management side. Because the establishment grew, it grew from three aircrews... so six...
it grew from an establishment of about twelve people when we first went in up to, at the end, I think we about, oh about fifty or sixty people, in just our Caribou operations, at the end of the operation. So it turned into quite a big machine to try and manage. It was, and it was, you know, almost a small squadron, rather that a
detachment, towards the end.
I think I said before that I had been planning on resigning. East Timor, East Timor came along and kept me in for a bit longer. I probably would’ve resigned around about when East Timor was on except when East Timor came up and I thought, ‘Well I’ve been in the air force for all this time, and they’ve been paying
me to go and defend people, now that something’s actually come up, perhaps I should go and do that for a while.’ So East Timor kept me in for at least that period of time. And I came back and we had to start getting on with catching up with all the... oh, we were still miles behind in our operational capability of where we should have been. So we went back to rebuilding all of that, getting
people back up to speed on goggles and air drops and New Guinea training and all that sort of stuff. So I was sort of back into the running of that side of things, back into getting people converted onto type and all that sort of stuff. There was a few other, a few other things that came up during that sort of time,
but it was pretty much just business as usual during that... but then, you know, the writing was on the wall that I would be posted and that not too far down the track I’d be promoted, and that basically spelled the end of my flying career anyway. So if I was lucky I may have got another flying
tour as a CO of one of the squadrons, but I’d have to probably do three or four years in a ground job, somewhere in some very cold location like Canberra or Sydney before that would happen, and that didn’t really appeal to me very much. And I guess the frequency of what I’d been doing, you know, with New Guinea and then Irian Jaya
and East Timor and all the other things, had sort of caught up with me I think, and I decided I’d just had enough, I just wanted a break. So I’d made the decision to leave and as I said, I would’ve resigned other than that, when I had an aircraft accident, which was just one of those unfortunate
things. And I decided that I’d stay for another twelve months, just to make sure that the message wasn’t going the wrong way to people. So I stayed for another twelve months and that was enough, I’d had enough, I didn’t feel that I wanted to stay in any more. And
whilst I’ve missed some things, I guess, there are... you know, you miss some of the mate-ships that form, and you miss, I miss the challenges that I used to get. And I used to quite like operating in New Guinea and I used to like, you know, running detachments and managing people and doing all that, I used to quite enjoy that, so I missed that a little bit. But I don’t miss a lot of the other things that I had to put up with,
and I’ve still got enough to keep me busy managing my business, for that decision to leave I haven’t regretted. Sometimes I think I’d like to get in a Caribou and go flying again and then I think of all the stuff I had to actually do and put up with to get in that aeroplane and go flying in it, and I don’t miss that.
So you know, there comes a time, I think, in everybody’s life when they think, ‘I’ve had enough of doing that, I feel like a change,’ and that time had come, and that was my decision.
And here we are today. Well, I’ll just ask one or two general questions and that’s just about your whole service time. What did you think, kind of qualities did it teach you as a person?
Qualities of a person? I guess I probably had some of those qualities already I guess, it probably bought them out more in me I guess. But integrity and honesty and loyalty, those are probably three of the key ingredients that I think I have got and they’re the sort of things that I like to try and instil in my own people.
Do your best, try your hardest and if I can get an honest effort out of my people and they’re doing their best work, then that’s all I ask for, and that’s all I want. So that, that’s something that I got. I think, as my time progressed in the air force and I had more, and I had a pretty broad spectrum of jobs
and a pretty wide range of experiences, I think I learned that everybody has a different, everybody has different capabilities and everybody has something to offer, and as a manager and as a leader its your job to find out what those qualities and capabilities are and get that out of your people.
And make sure that they’re, that they are focused to do the job that you’re asking of them and hopefully that they want to do the job for you. And that’s, and that to me is leadership. If you can get that out of people then I think you’re a good leader.
And over that period, just briefly, what kind of things had changed in the air force over your time?
The air force has changed a lot to what it used to be. It used to be, it used to be a lot more relaxed. I think, I think not necessarily for better or worse, the air force has become far more specialised than it used to be, and its become far more professional I think, than it used to be. That’s taken away a few of the
good, fun things that used to go on, probably taken away a little bit of the mateship and camaraderie that used to develop through those sorts of activities, you know, that we used to do. And when I first joined the air force, every Wednesday afternoon the whole base would stop working and go and play sport, you know, every week, and that doesn’t happen anymore. You know, if you, and but you’re still expected to maintain a level of fitness, but its up
to you to do it in your own time. Whereas before the air force used to say, ‘Well,’ you know, ‘we’ll all knock off, we’ll all go and play golf, or...’ And that, we still try and do that, well used to try and do it when I was here but you just don’t have time anymore to do it. Everybody is so busy now because we’ve limited, we’ve cut the numbers down, there’s no fat left in the air force anymore, and there’s no, I don't think there’s any fat left in the defence forces anymore. So
I think that that’s a change and I don't know that its necessarily for better or worse, there are obviously elements of it which are better. There’s no more long lunches, you know, that used to go on. I remember when I was a troop, you know, the sergeants would knock off for lunch and they’d go up to the sergeants mess and they might not come back, you know, that’d be the, that’d be the last you’d see of them for the day. And I think that was a bad thing, I don't think that was a good thing at all.
But its nice to still be able to do that occasionally. And it, I think we’re getting less and less of that, available to us. Good things that’ve changed though? Far more focused on operations, we now have defined, defined our roles.
People who join the defence forces these days... when I joined the defence force, I really didn’t think about deploying overseas or having to go and carry a gun and possibly having to use it. Whereas now I think because we have been involved recently in so many things, you know, East Timor and, you know, Afghanistan and Mogadishu and the whole gamut of...
obviously in Iraq and the Solomons, that people now, if you join the defence force now you can expect that you’re gonna get called on to do one of those, to do one of those roles. Whereas when I joined up nobody, nobody every thought about it, you know, nobody ever thought, nobody ever thought that we would go into East Timor and possibly stand to have a full out stoush with,
with Indonesia. You know, we were always told, ‘Oh look there’s ten year threat, there’s ten, there’s always, you have ten years of lead time before there’d be a war,’ and that’s not true. Its, the pace of operations have changed, there can be a war in a minute.